At the start of 2018, the South African government labeled April 22nd as “Day Zero,” the day Cape Town would run out of water. A shocker, I know. Never in modern history has a developed city run out of water. For many, that date would present a looming and inevitable end to life as they know it. Fortunately, due to the conservation efforts of the South African government the expected date of “run-dry” has been pushed back to July.
Though the plight of the South African capital of Cape Town is only now becoming of common public interest, the city has long been aware of its water problems. The Cape’s rapid population growth along with anticipated climate changes had the city under warning ten years ago. Unfortunately, residents and government officials failed to heed the instructions to begin conservation measures and now they’re left with a region en route to becoming the first major city in the world to run out of water.
Ironically, Cape Town is a city built on rivers and freshwater springs— literally. In addition to dozens of springs, four rivers flow straight from beneath modern civilization—buildings and manholes—and into the sea. It’s all precious water that Capetonians are so desperately in need of now and are reportedly attempting to tap into as far as possible.
The crisis has particularly highlighted the wealth imbalance in the area; 90 percent of the country’s wealth is owned by ten percent of its population. So while the majority of the population worries about how they will survive this, the upper ten percent will simply resort to more expensive private solutions such as well digging or importing bottled water.
But this densely populated city in South Africa is definitely not the only one facing such a situation. In Mexico City there are already residents to whom water is only available for part of the day, and the bustling city of Melbourne in Australia has reported that it is likely to end up in the same predicament as Cape Town in just over a decade. Additionally, with droughts touching California, Brazil, and Spain, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that we are heading toward an increasingly dry future. All we can do to avoid such a reality for as long as possible is practice conservatory measures both on a small and large scale. Water is most invaluable to us all and there is something to be learned from the Cape’s saddening situation: Every drop counts. Unfortunately, Cape Town had to learn that the hard way.
Only time will tell what will become of South Africa as they take on this humanitarian crisis. The city has recently imposed a daily consumption limit of 13 gallons per person (in comparison, the average American uses 80-100 gallons daily) as they scramble to find a solution before their self-imposed “Day Zero.”